Monkees vs. Macheen: Head (1968)

“Have It Cleaned and Burned.”

Head was released November 6, 1968, directed by Bob Rafelson, and written by Rafelson and Jack Nicholson. That’s right, Jack freakin’ Nicholson wrote Head. Apparently Nicholson was a huge fan of the film when it was finished. Hey, it’s good to be proud of your work.

According to the book, Monkeemania by Glen A. Baker, Columbia Pictures gave Raybert a $750,000 budget, expecting a teen exploitation film, something very similar to the weekly show. Apparently, this was not what Rafelson or the Monkees had in mind. Rafelson thought he’d never have another chance to direct, so he wanted to emulate every type of Hollywood movie all at once, make a “movie about movies” and expose the showbiz process. The Monkees wanted to direct the film themselves, but Rafelson, Schneider, and Nicholson were against this idea. Instead, they got creative input, resulting in a brainstorming session (on acid) where they put every crazy idea they had for the movie on a tape recorder. Nicholson organized the tapes into a script.

I was confused and disappointed with this movie when I first saw it; if you’re a fan of the show, it’s not the film you’re expecting. I always thought Head could have been a more “adult version” of The Monkees (“bigger, better, longer, and uncut”) and still tackled the same themes: the war protest, killing their pop star image, the plastic and manufactured products of Hollywood, the Media. Perhaps a still subversive but tighter, wittier film with a plot, related to the show but using the more permissive medium of film. On the other hand, if Head had featured a fictional band that was created just for the purposes of this movie, or featured another real-life band of the time, I would have no expectations of what the humor, characters, and story should be like, and I would probably have liked the movie on first viewing. I like weird, surreal, and subversive and I like the themes that Head gets into. There are a lot of funny moments and moments to appreciate in Head.

I. Opening Ceremony

Music: “The Porpoise Song” by Gerry Goffin/Carole King.

The Monkees interrupt an opening ceremony for a bridge, running for their lives through the red ribbon. Micky jumps into the water to escape it all and swims around with some mermaids. The film transitions from Micky underwater to Micky making out with a woman back at the Monkees’ house. She kisses each Monkee in turn. Two lines explain everything. Mike: “Well?” Woman (making a so-so gesture): “Even.” Multiple Monkees have made out with the same girl before, like in “Hillbilly Honeymoon,” but on film, with the slow lingering shots, it feels so much sleazier. Thanks, Bob.

Music: “Ditty Diego-War Chant” by Jack Nicholson/Robert Rafelson.

As the Monkees chant, the screen turns into a multiple televisions, showing various scenes yet to come. The lyrics pretty much spell it all out for the audience:

Hey, hey, we are the Monkees
You know we love to please
A manufactured image
With no philosophies

We hope you like our story
Although there isn’t one
That is to say, there’s many
That way there is more fun…

II. War

Music: “Circle Sky” by Michael Nesmith.

All the televisions fill with an iconic image from the Vietnam war (General Ngoc Loan executing Viet Cong suspect Nguyen Van Lem.) A girl screams but not in horror; she’s at a rock concert with other screaming fans. The next scenes juxtapose images of war, explosions, etc. with scenes of the Monkees performing and the hysterical reactions of the crowd. There’s also a sketch with the Monkees as soldiers, the highpoint of which is Peter running for ammo and getting photographed for the cover of Life magazine. The horrors of war become a media spectacle; Vietnam was known as the first televised war and those images made the war incredibly controversial. Since I’m putting this out on Election Day, and we’re living in such politically charged times, I’ll mention that when Head was released, 50 years ago, it was one day after the election of President Nixon. It was a volatile election year, with the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr, Robert F. Kennedy, and widespread opposition to the Vietnam War.

At the concert, girls rush on stage to tear the Monkees apart. You could replace the Monkees with any hugely popular rock band and the image would still work. There are terrible things, war and tragedy, but all that matters is the Monkees are on stage (or the Stones or Beatles etc.).Once the girls start ripping them to pieces, they are revealed to be mannequins, referring to the notion of them as “manufactured.”

Continuing the television theme, an unseen person flips through the channels of various black and white television and film clips . (the Oliver Stone movie, Natural Born Killers certainly owes a huge debt to Head.)The viewer settles on a scene of Micky stranded in the desert. Dying of thirst, he finds a Coca-Cola machine. Finding it empty, he proceeds to beat the crap out of it. In this scene, look out for William Bagdad (“Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik” ) and Vito Scotti (“The Case of the Missing Monkee”) as an Italian soldier who surrenders his tank and weapon to Micky.

One of the most satisfying moments in Head is Micky blowing up the Coke machine with the tank. With great anti-establishment spirit, he takes down an iconic American corporation. It’s also the fantasy of seeing someone get back at a frustrating situation. The Monkees are caught up in a corporate machine throughout Head; this is one of the rare scenes where they get revenge.

Music: “Can You Dig It?” by Peter Tork.

III. Hollywood

The Monkees loved to satirize, parody, and spoof every type of Hollywood movie genre. Head pretty much rips down the fourth wall, exposing the fakeness of movies with more anger than humor. Among the different genres mocked here are: War, Western, Live Action Disney, Horror, gangster films, etc. In the middle of shooting a Western scene, Micky calls bullshit on everything and walks off set, Mike following behind. They find Davy in the midst of shooting some Disney-type film, and take him along. The Monkees spend most of the rest of film walking in and out of various sets and onto the back lot of Columbia studios. Terri Garr, Annette Funicello, and Tim Carey are among the guest stars in these scenes.

Mike, Micky, and Davy end up in the studio commissary. The other patrons rush out, muttering they can’t eat with them around, long hair, etc. I read somewhere that when the young actors were shooting the first season of the TV show, patrons of the Columbia studio cafeteria didn’t like having them around because of their long hair. Once everyone else is gone, the throaty-voiced waitress sarcastically calls the Monkees “God’s gift to the eight-year-olds.”

Most of the other characters in Head seem to hate the Monkees, including the Monkees themselves. The Huffington Post article about the film notes that the Monkees were tired of the show, tired of being a teen idol band, and wanted to be taken seriously. Writing, producing, and playing all the instruments on Headquarters didn’t get the job done. Head was their way of breaking with their own image. Rafelson and Schneider were tired of the Monkees as well. This was Raybert’s way of destroying their creation.

The waitress smacks Davy, transitioning into the boxing scenes, in which Davy gets the crap beat out of him by (real-life boxer) Sonny Liston. Mike and Micky have bet money based on him throwing the match and have an argument about who’s “the dummy.” This leads to Micky freaking out and punching everyone, including cops and the blonde moll-type (real-life stripper Carole Doda). Peter appears out of nowhere and meta comments on the “Peter” character he played on the weekly show:

This boxing scene segues into Peter back in the commissary, where he punches out the waitress (who is revealed, to no one’s surprise, to be played by a man.) The filming breaks and we get “behind-the-scenes” of Peter worrying about his “image” to the director Rafelson (breaking the fourth wall and acting as himself). Jack Nicholson is in the background of the scene (as is Dennis Hopper briefly).

Music “As We Go Along” by Goffin/King.

Monkees wander various landscapes, a beach, a flower garden, reminiscent of “Monkees on Tour”/”Monkees in Paris,” also directed by Rafelson. This segues into the Monkees on a factory tour. We never find out what the factory makes. Maybe the Monkees themselves since they are “manufactured” per the lyrics. Prescient line from the tour guide, as things become more automated and humans do less and less for themselves, and as people consume more television and other types of media.

“A new world, whose only preoccupation will be how to amuse itself. The tragedy of your times, my young friends, is you may get exactly what you want.”

IV. The Black Box

The Monkees are shut into a dark room and forced to perform as Victor Mature’s dandruff for a television commercial. From this point onward in Head the Monkees are, with a few exceptions, passively moved from one situation to another by the editing. They’re sucked into a vacuum where they find giant tacks, buttons, a needle and a joint. Davy’s not with them, so they make a human ladder to crawl back up and look for him. The dialogue here would almost have fit in on the show.

Micky: Somebody has to be on the bottom.
Mike: Well, I’m the tallest and the strongest.
Micky: So you’re the bottom.
Mike: I—oh, well…
Peter: Everybody’s where they wanna be.
Micky: That was a particularly inept thing to say, Peter, considering that we are in a vacuum cleaner.

Music: “Daddy’s Song” by Harry Nilsson.

Davy performs a song and dance number with choreographer Toni Basil (“Hey Mickey!”). In this fantastic scene, the dancing, the song, the editing with the two different backgrounds and costume changes; it’s perfect for him. Also, it’s hard not to tear up when he says “The years have passed and so have I,” given his death in 2012. This scene is an example of how intricate the editing in this film is (Michael Pozen and Monte Hellman). Throughout Head, each crazy sketch leads brilliantly into the next, though there’s no storyline to support the transitions. It’s a bit like the Monty Python film, And Now For Something Completely Different.

Davy wanders back out onto the lot where he runs into The Critic, who is leading a cow. (Frank Zappa, who also appeared in “The Monkees Blow Their Minds.”)

The Critic: “That song was pretty white.”
Davy: “Well, so am I, what can I tell ya?”

On the back studio lot, Mike, Micky, and Peter slowly emerge from a large black box and get hassled by a cop. They find themselves repeatedly back in this box throughout the rest of the film. Again, per Monkeemania, during the shooting of The Monkees there was an actual “black box” lounge area they were “kept” at times when they weren’t needed on set. This was the producers answer to the problems caused when the Columbia/Screen Gems executives didn’t like seeing the “long-haired” youths wandering around on the back lot.

After Davy and a corp of soldiers march the cop away, Davy excuses himself to use the bathroom. There are quite a few scenes in the bathroom, apparently a huge deal because films/television at that time pretended bathrooms didn’t exist. Cleverly edited sequence where Davy’s in a horror movie, and Micky’s in a jungle picture where the natives chain him to the wall along with Mike and Peter. The wall revolves and they’re back in the white-tiled bathroom with their hands up (where they would’ve been chained from the previous scene.) The cop hassles them some more.

V. The Real vs. The Imagined

The next sequence is called “The Cop’s Dream,” but would have made more sense if it was Mike’s dream. Mike’s nap gets disrupted by the door buzzer. Peter finally answers it but Mike can’t go back to sleep because first Peter, then Davy and Micky are all missing. He wanders around the Monkees house in his pajamas, and it’s cut to look like a horror film with creepy music and effects. He opens a creaky door and finds three robed men/Monkees who sing happy birthday to him. The whole scene bursts into a wild birthday party set to music. Everyone but Mike is dancing.

Music: “Do I have to do this all over again” (Peter Tork)

The song title is an excellent question. After all, the end of the film is the same as the beginning, I’m guessing these Monkees personas do this same thing every single day. Get chased around back lots, trapped in the black box, try to drown themselves, get taken back to the studio and repeat.

After the song, Mike yells at the crowd that he hates surprises “and the same thing goes for Christmas.” This makes the crowd gasp dramatically. (Ha!) Everyone starts laughing, assuming Mike is joking. Lord High n’ Low enters rolling in a wheelchair. He stands up, then staggers around and collapses, slurring his words. The Monkees start laughing hysterically.

They’ve been inserted into a Western where High n’ Low fires a rifle and tells them not to make fun of cripples. There’s now a montage of b/w interviews with various people explaining why it’s wrong to laugh at others and the possible punishments you should get for doing so. The Monkees wake up in a jail as a voice whispers “guilty.” This dissolves into a Yogi in a sauna who lectures about beliefs and conditioning. He speaks about the real vs. vividly imagined experiences to his student, Peter.

In the studio backlot, Mike and Micky are in a crowd, looking up at a woman who’s about to jump off a building and they make bets on whether she’ll go through with it. The Monkees are very unappealing in this movie, compared to their television show fictional personalities. On The Monkees, the characters were goofy and cowardly but friendly and always willing to help the underdogs. They had a strong friendship and they were also agents of chaos. They fought back. They caused trouble. The Monkees in Head on the other hand are tools; unlikable because they never try very hard to get out of this circle of hell. They have no charm, they aren’t engaging, they’re mostly humorless, they have no empathy for each other or other characters in the film. I don’t care about these characters as they continue to get destroyed by the ridiculous circumstances. It’s another way Head kills off the Monkees image.

The four of them end up back in the black box. Mike is impatient, angry with Peter who he thinks knows the way out. Peter takes charge and relays his conversation with “The Master.” He makes the point that the brain is almost incapable of telling difference between the “real and the vividly imagined.” Sound, film, radio, etc. He paraphrases the yogi’s speech, ending by saying he’s knows nothing.

Maybe this is obvious, but I like the theory that this is all happening in the Monkees minds or “heads” if you will; the ridiculous situations, constantly being trapped in their image as a bubblegum, teeny-bop band. Throughout the film, they never do escape.

The idea that the brain can’t tell the difference between the imagination and the reality is the point because the Monkees played characters that were “fictionalized” versions of themselves. They had their real names, etc. The actors in the show went on tour as a real band. They played live and made records outside the scope of the television show. Not to mention on the show episodes there were those frequent flips between the reality of the plot and the Monkees shared fantasies.

Then, of course, there is the audience. We all like to think we know the difference between fantasy and reality but do we always? I’m not talking fake news here, I’m talking about the things we convince ourselves of everyday, and how sometimes memories of books or movies get mixed up with memories of real life. We have to walk a very careful line with the amount of stuff that gets dumped into our brain constantly. Analyze it, sort it out.

VI. Finale

Davy gets angry that Peter has no real solution so he becomes an action hero, punches and breaks out of the box. The other three follow suit and they all fight the factory workers. Lee Kolima (“The Spy Who Came in from the Cool,” “The Devil and Peter Tork”) plays a security guard in this scene. The Monkees burst through the painted wall into a Western scene. Lord High n’ Low and his posse threaten the Monkees, but with a gift from the editors, Davy suddenly has that often used cannon and blasts them away. (Peter: “Where’d he get the cannon?” Heh.)

Speaking of fighting, the Monkees themselves staged one more fight at the start of the production of Head. On the first day of Head, Micky, Mike, and Davy didn’t show up for filming. They were protesting that they wouldn’t get more money for the film as their contracts hadn’t been renewed. They were appeased with $1,000 a piece and the production resumed.

A giant Victor Mature appears in the sky like a b-movie monster, and the Monkees end up back in the box again. A helicopter drops it off in the desert, where it breaks open. The Monkees face a line of extras from the film who chase them until Giant Victor hits the Monkees with a golf club and whacks them back into the back lot. There’s more chasing, wacky clips, a silent movie/Keystone Cop bit where they’re on the conveyor belt, Vietnam clips paired with TV commercials. The Monkees try to escape in a yellow jeep but Victor kicks it over. Genius editing.

The Monkees wind up back at the bridge opening ceremony, chased by the supporting cast. This time they all jump off the bridge and into the water. “The Porpoise Song” re-plays for their symbolic suicide as they sink. Ultimately, they end up trapped in the black box which is now a fish tank, symbolic of their celebrity lives in front of the Media. Victor Mature, the personification of the forces acting on the Monkees, sits in a director’s chair on the back of a truck that drives the tank away. Presumably back to the studio to “do this all over again.” Credits.

Rafelson did of course go on to do other films. Head was just the beginning of “new Hollywood.” He went on to produce Easy Rider, and the success of that film gave birth to BBS Productions. He directed Five Easy Pieces (for which both he and Nicholson were nominated for Oscars), Stay Hungry, and The Postman Always Rings Twice. He produced those films as well as Easy Rider, and The Last Picture Show. Nicholson went on to be, well you know, Jack Nicholson.

Though Rafelson used his Monkees money to finance his films, Head was a flop at the time; the film made less than $20,000 at the box office. It does seem like no one was especially interested in the film being popular, considering the weird trailer/ad campaign created by (Andy Warhol Factory) producer John Brockman. The ads featured his “head,” though he’s only actually in the film for a few seconds during a clip montage. It would be hard to tell this had anything to do with The Monkees. None of their hit songs were used in the film, it had all original music.

I can see why they had trouble gaining an audience at first. For a Monkees fan the non-commercial nature of the film might not be so appealing. An avant-garde film buff might not have been into the Monkees. Since the theatrical release however, it seems the film has achieved cult status. I can certainly see it working well as a cult film; it fits in with the Midnight Movie set. It took me a few viewings to get into it, but the film is funny; a different kind of humor from the series, but I get a few chuckles out of it for sure.

Thanks again to everyone who’s been reading this and all the recaps of the show!

by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examined the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.

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Monkees vs. Macheen: “The Monkees in Paris”

“The summer of love meets the city of love.”

“The Monkees in Paris” was shot in two parts: the main action in June of 1967 in Paris and the wrap-around segments with James Frawley on December 24, 1967. These were the last bits of any Monkees episode filmed. Bob Rafelson wrote and directed this one, which is really more like an extended romp. There’s not a lot for me to recap here, even less than I had to work with for “Monkees on Tour.” The Imdb technical specs state that it was filmed on 35mm like the other episodes but I wonder if that is correct; this one looks like it was shot on 16mm with an outdoor film stock, even the indoor scenes shot later with James Frawley. The episode has a cinema vérité feeling, similar to the extra footage that was shot and used in the first season romps (The Monkees on the beach in the red swimsuits, the Monkees riding the unicycles). It is also similar in feel to the Mardi Gras/New Orleans/Acid trip sequences in Easy Rider (1969), which was produced by Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson.

To start things off, Mike, Micky, and Davy have a friendly game of checkers. Peter rushes in with a threatening letter. Something about getting off the ranch and returning the microfilm, in other words a mishmash of old episode plots. The Monkees ignore the “bad guy” who sneaks up behind them. He has a mustache, a foreign accent, and the usual television clichés.

James Frawley enters the scene and breaks the fourth wall to direct them to do the “Monkees scare.” He’s playing himself as the director even though he didn’t direct this episode. The Monkees are bored and complain they’ve been doing the same thing over and over, which is a valid argument. Davy mentions that there’s always a tall heavy and a small heavy. He doesn’t mention a smart and a dumb one but that would also be accurate. Frawley tries to convince them that it’s all great and to keep going. They rebel; they’re going on vacation while he works out the show’s problems. They head for Paris and leave him in the lurch.

This does reflect the behind the scenes feelings the Monkees had about the repetitive nature of the show’s plots. In the Micky Dolenz autobiography, I’m a Believer, he wrote “Quite frankly, we were getting a little jaded with the show as it existed, Every week Davy [Jones] would fall in love with some girl or Peter [Tork] would be kidnapped by some bad guy, or some guy spy would hide microfilm in somebody’s something or other.” That is a fair statement, after looking at over 50 of these episodes, I can relate.

They were more interested in getting on with their first and only feature film, Head, which began shooting the same day this episode aired, February 19, 1968. The next day, February 20, NBC announced their fall line-up and The Monkees was notably absent. The Monkees didn’t want to continue the show in the same way; they wanted a variety show with musical guests every week, an idea that was sort of tested by the episodes towards the end of the run where Davy, Micky, and Mike got to have musical guests of their choice included. The network wanted them to continue on with the sitcom format, so there was disagreement on how the show would have continued.

After the titles, the Monkees arrive in Paris and drive scooters around until some young women catch sight of them and start chasing them. There’s no dialogue, just action and music. The very 1960’s score gives way to “Love is Only Sleeping” (Chip Douglas, Bill Martin). The streets are wet and rainy and the Monkees run through an outdoor market on foot. The young ladies chasing after them were hired models, and the Imdb doesn’t list their names. The website monkees.coolcherrycream.com however has screen captures that identify them as Carine (Davy’s girl), Véronique Duval (Micky’s girl), Françoise Dorléac (Peter’s girl), and Carole André (Mike’s girl).

In reality, the Monkees were not famous in Paris, so they were able to film scenes without any fans bothering them. They hired the girls to pretend to be crazed fans. This contrasts with their popularity in Great Britain. According to The Monkees Day-by-Day by Andrew Sandoval, they had to cancel shooting part of the series in Manchester because, according to Rafelson, “They are just too well known here.” In Paris, the Monkees were even able to take a day off and do some sight-seeing.

Back at the pad, James Frawley is on the phone with Bob (Rafelson), complaining that the Monkees left. It’s cute that they’re pretending that red phone is connected to a real phone line. Frawley suggests they put on half an hour of commercials like The Johnny Carson Show. Burn.

I wish I knew Paris but I’ve never had the good fortune to go, so there’s not a lot of meaning for most of these locations for me. The four models corner the Monkees at a drawbridge. Then suddenly, they’re at an amusement park where they ride some little tricycles. There’s no attempt at continuity or a story. They go on some more rides and now each Monkee is paired up with a girl. They ride different styles of toy cars around. The Monkees are at a flower garden, walking around holding hands canoodling with their girls. “Don’t Call on Me” (Michael Nesmith, John London) is the music.

This entire episode has a very 1960’s vibe. I mean yes, I know this was all from the 1960s but I’d give this episode the prize for most dated feeling. I don’t have objective facts for this, it’s just the atmosphere created by the way this was put together with the music and the ’60s fashions are the only element to focus on. In the episodes with plot and dialog there’s a more timeless feel because they rarely got topical. They were youthful and rebelled against authority and the status quo, and those are timeless concepts, not restricted to a particular decade. In Monkeemania by Glen A. Baker, Mike Nesmith talks about Raybert and their progressive-for-the-time ideas about how to make The Monkees innovative. “What they really wanted was a show that mirrored the times without actually being part of it.” It’s funny that Rafelson directed this one because it’s very much part of the times. [He probably did it for the free trip to Paris – Editor’s Note] Most of the time the show made fun of hippies, if anything. But in “Monkees in Paris” all these lovely shots of them walking around in nature, arm-in-arm, seem like manufactured “love and peace.” They don’t seem organic, nor does it seem that they were intended to be humorous or ironic.

“Star Collector” (Goffin/King) plays as the Monkees do some clowning around, falling face forward out of a truck trailer. They’re back on the scooters at some kind of street fair. The girls chase them around again. Davy fools around at a clothing stand. Micky gropes his girl on a stack of mattresses. Peter tries to impress his girl with his violin playing. My only real laugh-out-loud at this episode comes from his facial expressions as he strives to get her attention. Next, they’re all at typewriters. Whatever they typed and show to the girls gets them slapped. They try again and get hugs. How many Monkees would it take to accidentally type Hamlet?

Next song is “Goin’ Down” (Dolenz, Jones, Tork, Nesmith, Hildebrand). A bigger group of fans chases the Monkees through cobblestone streets with cops–or gedarmes following behind. Mike looks like he’s having a great time. The fans catch Micky at some point and try to tear his shirt off until the gedarmes break it up, two of whom are David Pearl and Ric Klein. There’s an abrupt tone change where they walk around a cemetery with organ music in the background. The music goes back to “Goin Down” and groups of females continue to chase them through the streets. Mike drives some kind of three-wheeled truck type vehicle and the other three ride in the back. Micky, Peter, and Davy scare the girls and the police by taking their shirts off. Sure, that makes sense. The four girls from before join them on the little truck. The Monkees take a boat ride with their girls and the soundtrack plays a banjo instrumental of that often-used “The Old Folks at Home” (Foster) tune. There’s a sequence with Peter and Davy in old-timey swimsuits with their girls by a pool. It would have been clever if they’d switched to black and white film for that.

The Monkees and the girls ride through the city in a jeep as the music switches back to “Don’t Call on Me.” They manage to break the hood off their vehicle and cause a traffic jam. The French must have loved them. About the song, Michael Nesmith wrote it with his friend John London in their folk singing days, before the Monkees. The version of the song on Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. has an intro and fadeout that invokes a performance in a piano lounge somewhere. Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, Davy Jones, and Bob Rafelson all participated in the ambiance recording. Mike’s vocal performance is different than usual on this song; instead of having his customary country-rock sound; he sounds like a smooth ballad singer. When I first heard the song I didn’t even recognize it as him. The four models chase the boys around and up the Eiffel tower while an instrumental “Alouette” plays. They climb all over it, making me dizzy. They all squeeze into a tiny box at one point. Cozy!

Back at the pad, the Monkees play checkers again. The scene begins the same way with Peter and the threatening letter. The Monkees aren’t having it. Mike complains to “Jim.” Frawley justifies that the actor has no mustache or accent and is asking for “the secret apple.” Mike and Micky promise to see us next week with something better.

Back to Paris, there’s a final montage of shots of the Monkees kissing and hugging the models. Micky puts a fur hood on two girls heads and pushes them together, then grins as though they were kissing. If I’m interpreting that correctly, I can’t believe that got past the censors. He also affectionately hugs an old lady, which is very sweet. There you have it, naughty Micky and nice Micky. There’s a random shot of Micky with Samantha Juste, his future wife [You are tearing me apart, Lisa! – Editor’s Note], holding him as he sleeps on a bus.

I have to admit when I used to catch the run of episodes on MTV and Nickelodeon back in the mid-eighties, I wasn’t too excited when this one came up in the rotation. I tuned into The Monkees for the funny dialogue and weird plots, to see the Monkees talk to me by breaking the fourth wall, etc. This episode is cute but it’s never going to be a favorite. As a teen I admit I did enjoy seeing them run around with the pretty girls. There is a fun romance element to it. Unfortunately the film stock they used was awfully washed out so any beautiful or interesting scenery is not getting the appreciation it deserves. My DVD’s are no improvement on how it looked on television. They did restore it on the Blu Ray box set apparently, according to the Monkees YT channel. Here’s a sample of the restoration. As I said in my intro, “Monkees in Paris” is an extended romp; it’s pretty and fun but ultimately pointless.

by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examines the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.

 

Monkees vs. Macheen: “Hitting the High Seas”

“We’ll scuttle the story and run her a-ground!”

“Hitting the High Seas” was directed by James Frawley and written by Jack Winter, who wrote four other episodes that I listed in my recap for “The Picture Frame.”  Fun note about the title: the book, Monkee Magic by Melanie Mitchell, notes that it’s a pun on hitting the high “C’s,” as in the musical note. This episode is included in The Monkees DVD/VHS “Our Favorite Episodes” as Davy Jones’ favorite. Though the Amazon description of that box set notes this may not be entirely the case as he states “Royal Flush” is his favorite on the DVD box set commentary. Jones gives commentary for this episode as well.

Micky, Davy, and Peter sit in a bar discussing their recent firing from a failed gig. They overhear two sailors, Frank and Harry, discuss an available job. Noam Pitlik, whom we saw in an earlier episode, “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik,” as Shazer, plays Harry. The old sailors describe the perfect men needed for the job, while the Monkees counter with demonstrations of their qualifications. “They’ve got to be strong.” Micky destroys furniture. (Yet he wasn’t able to do so in “Wild Monkees.”) “They’ve got to be able to use their hands.” Davy juggles. “They’ve got to have knowledge of the seven seas.” Peter names random bodies of water. The sailors wonder where to find “hard drinkin’ guys like that.” The Monkees heartily drink their milk. (Yes, milk – it does a body good.) One of the sailors asks, “what about these kids here?” The Monkees magically pop into sailor costumes. Frank and Harry tell the Monkees where and when to meet them if they want the job.

Cut to the sailors on the phone discussing their success in finding the “dumbest suckers” they could. This makes no sense at all because from what we see later, they don’t need the Monkees to execute their plan. Davy Jones mentions on the commentary track that many of the Monkees adventures were about playing the kinds of fantasies kids would have. Pirates would naturally be among kid’s fantasies (I know it was one of mine), so I guess whatever contrivance it takes to get them on the ship will do.

The background music by Stu Phillips is a cheerful sailor cartoon theme. Frank meets all four Monkees on the deck of the ship. Davy Jones mentioned on the commentary that this was a beautiful boat that the four of them actually considered purchasing. The Monkees have no idea how to sail. Frank tosses a million directions at them, and Mike tries to follow along with a book of instructions. Fortunately, someone has labeled the main sail and the ropes needed to adjust it, but they mess it up anyway. Micky, Peter, and Davy get seasick and take pills to cure it. Mike takes one, but like Micky’s bug-attracting insect spray from “Monkees Marooned,” the pill makes him seasick. He goes below deck, never to be seen again.

The Monkees that are still standing meet the Captain, played by Chips Rafferty who, I’m sure was not coincidentally cast as he was in the films The Wackiest Ship in the Army and Mutiny on the Bounty. During roll call he orders them to cut their hair, but they refuse. In response, the Captain plans to have them “keel-hauled and lashed” until Micky identifies Davy as the great-great grandson and heir to Davy Jones’ locker. The Captain is awed to have a Jones on his ship. He lightens the punishment “swabbing the deck” and makes Davy his cabin boy. [“These pipes are CLEEEANN!” – Editor’s note]

Inside the ship, Davy tries to deliver food to the Captain but keeps running into various other fictional captains. First up is Micky, dressed as Captain Ahab from Moby Dick. He also finds Peter as an 18th-century pirate, getting slapped for forcing a kiss on a girl. Micky re-appears as Captain Hornblower and blows a little horn, “groovy, sock it to me, yeah.” Captain Horatio Hornblower was a fictional captain in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars and was the subject of novels, films, and radio. According to his characteristics listed on Wikipedia, Hornblower was tone deaf, so he probably didn’t play the horn or anything else. Also, like Mike, he tended to get seasick.

Davy finally finds the right Captain, who’s now in conference with his parrot, Horace. He overhears the Captain and the parrot discuss a plan to steal gold. In the commentary, Davy Jones mentions that Micky was the actual voice of the parrot. Davy thinks they’re “crackers.” Nice pun. Hanging out in their bunks, Peter and Micky play and sing a little bit of “Tear the Top Right Off My Head” (Peter Tork) on acoustic guitar. Davy rushes in and tells them his fears about the Captain. On the spot, Davy comes up with an idea for them to sneak into the Captain’s room at night. Micky will imitate the parrot so they can find out more about the Captain’s plan.

Cut to the execution of Davy’s plan. Peter tapes the real parrot’s mouth shut and Micky engages the Captain, pretending to be Horace. The Captain used to be captain of a ship called the Queen Anne, and he wants to rob it in revenge for being kicked off the ship. Next day on deck, Micky tries to brush this off as just a fantasy the Captain has created to compensate in his mind for his childhood frustrations. Davy mentions in the commentary that Micky made those lines up. The script just said they should be “talking” so they improvised their own dialogue [Now that’s some solid professional television writing! – Editor’s Note]. The Captain appears on deck in a Jolly Roger hat and pirate costume, and the rest of the crew are suddenly dressed as Hollywood pirates. They hoist the Jolly Roger and reveal the canons. Micky tries to convince himself that the Monkees are now the ones trapped in a fantasy.

Maybe there’s something in that. What if the entire series was just a fantasy in the four Monkees minds, created to compensate for their failure to make it as a band? All the crazy things never really happened; they just imagined being chased by space aliens, international spies, and bank robbers and tangling with corrupt royalty, con-men, and mad scientists. Not to mention the Devil himself. Now that’s a trip!

The Captain shares his plan to rob the Queen Anne of Gold bullion. The Monkees are now in their own version of pirate costumes. My daughter pointed out that they look like Halloween costumes for little kids. (She keeps going on in adoration of Davy’s hat.) There is something very Peter Pan and the Lost Boys about this whole story. The Captain proclaims that anyone afraid to go through with his scheme should step forward; of course the Monkees do, but quickly retreat when told they’ll be dropped off in the middle of the ocean. I still don’t see why Frank and Harry needed to trap the boys into joining the crew for this. They didn’t really need inexperienced extra crewmen to rob the Queen Anne, did they?

The Monkees go back to their bunks to figure out how to stop the Captain from his crazy plan. Micky decides they should follow the Hollywood examples of Munity on the Bounty and Captain Queeg from The Caine Mutiny. Peter goes off to incite mutiny among the rest of the crew. Davy’s still skeptical so Micky convinces him with more references to the 1935 and 1962 versions of Mutiny on the Bounty, “How about, if Clark Gable and Marlon Brando can do it, we can do it?” The look that passes between them is pretty funny, looks like that line was made up too.

Peter whispers to everyone on deck, and you can see David Price and David Pearl are among the crew members. Micky gets up in front of the crew and calls the Captain out on deck. He asks the Captain to turn over his sword, and when he refuses, Micky orders the men to “seize him.” No one moves. Micky asks what Peter said to the men? Turns out it was a general “mrm mrmmmr mer” Davy and Peter deny being part of any mutiny, but Frank identifies them as being with Micky. The Captain orders them all to walk the plank. Horace sits on the Captain’s arm during this bit and he does his own thing, chewing something off the captain’s jacket.

Standing on the plank, quick-thinking Micky stalls by warning that if they jump in, the Captain will never know “the secret.” The Captain almost bites, but Peter ruins it by asking, “Hey guys, what is the secret?” The crew is distracted from drowning the Monkees when the Queen Anne approaches. They turn away from the Monkees and prepare the cannons to attack the other ship. Harry and the Captain crack me up with their little argument about when to fire.

The Monkees decide to save the Queen Anne. This action forms the romp to “Daydream Believer” (Stewart). The Monkees steal the cannons and there’s sword fighting, rope swinging, and pistols. A couple of fun moments include Micky and Peter’s mirror-image eye patch, and Peter driving pirates away with his guitar playing. In the end, the Monkees finally drop a net on the Captain and his men. After the fight, the Captain of the Queen Anne congratulates the Monkees for saving the ship, the gold, and the passengers. A bell keeps ringing and Davy comments on it. Davy Jones mentions in the commentary that the bell wasn’t part of the episode it was actually ringing on some other ship. The captain ignores him and announces they are all First Mates of the ship. Who’s the Captain? It’s Horace the parrot, of course.

Last up is a lip-sync performance of “Star Collector” (Goffin/King), the version of the song that utilizes a Moog synthesizer. Davy Jones mentions the Moog in the commentary and states that Micky owned one of the first existing models. The inventor of the machine, Robert Moog, brought it to the recording session and they played it for this song. In the clip, the Monkees are all in white turtleneck sweaters. It looks like someone made Mike a matching hat, but he never wears it, it just sits on a stand in the front. It’s all very psychedelic with trippy lights, colors, and fast editing. Micky has giant drumsticks and at one point, Mike grabs one to mimic his guitar playing.

This was never a favorite of mine but, paying closer attention for this recap, I discovered some things to appreciate. There are some laugh-out-loud bits, and there’s a storyline that works on that “good clean fun” level. The rugged sailors, Captain, Harry, and Frank, add a believable touch to the fantasy. The episode moves along quickly and is fun and entertaining. On the downside, there’s not as much subversive or Monkees-like humor. It’s almost as though any comic actors from any situation comedy of the time could have made the same episode. It was fun to play the episode with commentary, hearing Davy Jones point out various moments. Clearly he remembered it fondly and had some fun working on the show overall. The three Monkees that are in the episode look like they had a good time, which is always nice. As Davy Jones said, it’s still “bright and light and kind of fun.”

by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examines the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.